THE LAST THINGS - part 3
HEAVEN & HELL
Incorporeal things are not in place after a manner known and familiar to us, in which way we say that bodies are properly in place; but they are in place after a manner befitting spiritual substances, a manner that cannot be fully manifest to us."
[St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Supplement, Q69, a1, reply 1]
This is quite a philosophical statement so don’t worry too much if it doesn’t fully make sense. But I show it to you so you know where I am coming from!
WHERE IS HEAVEN? WHERE IS HELL?
· It is better (as St Thomas Aquinas suggested above) to begin by thinking that heaven and hell are less places and more to do with a state of being. When we die our souls do not, as such, go to a location but rather are in a state of being.
· Pope St John Paul II explained this in some of his Wednesday audiences in Rome. He said that if we imagine them as places we immediately limit them to our temporal order in which they do not belong.
· Both Heaven and Hell are eternal destinations, and no one travels from one to the other. Fallen Angels (Demons) cannot be redeemed and Angels of God cannot fall. Saints cannot sin in heaven etc.
· We of course use images of things we experience in this temporal order to try to explain what heaven is like, or hell is like. After all Jesus did this. He talked about Hell as Gehenna which was the rubbish dump of Jerusalem where there was always rubbish burning (and incidentally where the previous occupants of the land had performed child sacrifice to the ‘god’ Moloch – it was a place of horror for the Jews). Jesus also talked about heaven as a banquet or wedding feast (remembering wedding feasts went on for days for Jews!).
ERRORS ABOUT HEAVEN & HELL
· Most people in our secularising society believe one of two things:-
· “Heaven and Hell do not exist and there is no life everlasting.”
· “Hell might exist but hardly anyone goes there; and pretty much everyone (and their pets) go to heaven.”
· “Hell is not eternal but where the soul is extinguished.” RESPONSE ® of course we don’t like the idea of anyone going to hell, but God has given us eternal souls, this means they cannot be extinguished.
· “Heaven isn’t worth thinking about too much, what you need to do is get on with making this life better!” RESPONSE ® This can lead us to sleep walk in to hell – for we cannot earn heaven through good works – we need to know who saves us and what He asks us to do in order to be saved in Him!
WHAT IS HEAVEN?
· Heaven is the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God
· The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
…this perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed is called ‘heaven'. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. CCC.1024
Heaven – in the Holy Scriptures
· Metaphorically speaking, heaven is understood as the dwelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished from human beings (cf. Ps 104:2f.; 115:16; Is 66:1). He sees and judges from the heights of heaven (cf. Ps 113:4-9) and comes down when he is called upon (cf. Ps 18:9, 10; 144:5). However the biblical metaphor makes it clear that God does not identify himself with heaven, nor can he be contained in it (cf. 1 Kgs 8:27); and this is true, even though in some passages of the First Book of the Maccabees "Heaven" is simply one of God's names.
· The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11). Thus heaven becomes an image of life in God. In this sense Jesus speaks of a "reward in heaven" (Mt 5:12) and urges people to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (ibid., 6:20; cf. 19:21).
· The New Testament amplifies the idea of heaven in relation to the mystery of Christ. To show that the Redeemer's sacrifice acquires perfect and definitive value, the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus "passed through the heavens" (Heb 4:14), and "entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself" (ibid., 9:24). Since believers are loved in a special way by the Father, they are raised with Christ and made citizens of heaven. It is worthwhile listening to what the Apostle Paul tells us about this in a very powerful text: "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:4-7). The fatherhood of God, who is rich in mercy, is experienced by creatures through the love of God's crucified and risen Son, who sits in heaven on the right hand of the Father as Lord.
· After the course of our earthly life, participation in full life of communion with the Father thus comes through our insertion into Christ's paschal mystery. St Paul emphasizes our meeting with Christ in heaven at the end of time with a vivid spatial image: "Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thes 4:17-18).
Sacramental life is anticipation of heaven
· In the context of Revelation, we know that the "heaven" or "happiness" in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.
· It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these "ultimate realities" since their depiction is always unsatisfactory.
· The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the Church's teaching on this truth: "By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has "opened' heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ" (n. 1026).
Experiencing something of heaven now
· This final state, however, can be anticipated in some way today in sacramental life, whose centre is the Eucharist, and in the gift of self through fraternal charity. If we are able to enjoy properly the good things that the Lord showers upon us every day, we will already have begun to experience that joy and peace which one day will be completely ours. We know that on this earth everything is subject to limits, but the thought of the "ultimate" realities helps us to live better the "penultimate" realities. We know that as we pass through this world we are called to seek "the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God" (Col 3:1), in order to be with him in the eschatological fulfilment, when the Spirit will fully reconcile with the Father "all things, whether on earth or in heaven" (Col 1:20).
“This is good and pleasing to God our saviour, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4
WHAT IS HELL?
· THE CONSEQUENCE OF THE GIFT OF FREE WILL: God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself forever from joyful communion with Him.
· Before death redemption remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged "by what they [have done]" (Rv 20:13). After death there is no opportunity to change our mind.
· Holy Scripture has a developing understanding of what happens to the dead – in the Old Testament it was gradually being revealed. In the New Testament hell is:-
· a fiery furnace, where people will "weep and gnash their teeth" (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41) ;
· like Gehenna with its "unquenchable fire" (Mk 9:43) ;
· the parable of the rich man - which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1) ;
· the Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a "pool of fire" those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a "second death" (Rv. 20:13f.) ;
· whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for 'eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’ (2 Thes 1:9) ;
· Rather than a place as such, hell is the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, who is the source of all life and joy;
To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'. CCC1033
· Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan. (Rm. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
We are saved from going to hell by Jesus who conquered Satan
· Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying "yes" or "no", which marks the human creature's freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God's love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us:
…it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a "yes" to God.